When you step up from popup and teardrop campers to larger travel trailers or fifth-wheel trailers, the demands on the tow vehicle become exponential.
Here we enter the realm where mid-size SUVs typically struggle or simply aren’t capable of safely towing a travel trailer.
Especially if that travel trailer exceeds a 5,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating when fully loaded.
If you are in the market for a medium to large travel trailer or perhaps a robust fifth-wheel trailer, then you are likely looking to pair it with the right pickup truck.
Though this is an understandably crowded marketplace with multiple makes, models, and even trim levels that can influence a pickup truck’s towing capabilities.
It’s understandable if you are wondering what size truck you need to safely pull a travel trailer?
Right off the bat, the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado, and the Ram 1500 are all popular half-ton trucks that can safely pull most travel trailers of around 6,000 pounds or less. Though they aren’t the only tow capable trucks or vehicles for that matter that can tow a travel trailer.
Three-quarter and one-ton pickup trucks are often called for to tow much heavier travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers that can tip the scales well over 10,000 to 15,000-pounds or more in gross weight.
Above 15,000-pounds in gross vehicle weight rating and you will surely need a one ton pickup truck to tow it safely at highway speeds.
To truly find the best pickup truck to tow your travel trailer or fifth-wheel trailer, we are going to have to take a closer look at the factors that influence a vehicle’s towing capacity, as well as the sea of technical jargon that needs to be minded before tongue ever meets hitch.
Along the way, we will take a look at some of the more popular pickup truck options.
Here are the trailer towing capacity of the trucks available in the U.S.
|Make & Model Of Truck||Maximum Towing Capacity|
|Ford F-150 Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 13,200|
|Chevrolet Silverado Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 13,400|
|GMC Sierra Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 13,400|
|Nissan Titan Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 12,750|
|Ram 1500 Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 9,370|
|Toyota Tundra Half-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 10,200|
|Ford Super Duty F250 Three-Quarter Ton||Max. towing capacity: 18,200|
|Chevy Silverado 2500 Three-Quarter Ton||Max. towing capacity: 20,000|
|GMC Sierra 2500 Three-Quarter Ton||Max. towing capacity: 20,000|
|Ram 2500 Three-Quarter Ton||Max. towing capacity: 10,580|
|Ford F350 One-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 21,200|
|Chevy Silverado 3500 One-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 20,000|
|GMC Sierra 3500 One-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 20,000|
|Ram 3500 One-Ton||Max. towing capacity: 18,000|
Stay Within The Tow Vehicle’s Weight Rating
A quick flip through your intended pickup truck’s owner’s manual will give you the raw statistics on its towing capacity.
Though just because a particular truck might have a towing capacity of 10,000-pounds doesn’t mean you can just hitch 9,999 pounds up to it and drive off down the interstate highway with a blissfully confident smile on your face.
The common rule of thumb is that you should never put more than 80% of your pickup truck’s towing capacity on the back.
If a travel trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR is more than 80% of the pickup truck’s towing capacity, then you are at real risk of having a problem when dealing with hills, and wet or loose surfaces.
Overloaded trailers are also at increased risk of developing a very dangerous problem with trailer sway at highway speeds.
Important Towing Terminology
Before we start digging into the physics and technical explanations of loading and towing a travel trailer with a pickup truck, we need to first go over some key terms.
If you are new to towing a travel trailer with a pickup truck, these terms are worth going over more than once to properly commit them to memory.
Finding A Pickup Truck’s Towing Statistics
Most domestic pickup truck manufacturers do their best to be transparent about their vehicle’s capabilities.
To the point that they are frequently competing with each other over which one has the most towing capacity, or payload capacity.
Most of the specific ratings you need to know like towing capacity and payload capacity can be found on a stamped metal plate or printed on a permanent sticker in the pickup truck’s driver’s side door well.
Though if you are shopping for a new truck online and you don’t want to be hassled by salesmen, you can usually find that information online.
Simply go to your favorite search engine and type in “What Is The Towing Capacity Of A” then type the type of truck you are interested in.
Just make sure to include any trim level designations when entering the type of truck. With some truck manufacturers there can be a major difference in towing statistics between the lowest trim level in their line and the highest.
Beware Car Salesmen Claims
A lot of people will skip the internet research phase and go straight to the dealership to see what is actually available on their lot and at what price.
Eventually, you are going to need to go physically car shopping to make sure the truck you like is in stock somewhere.
Unfortunately, the commission structure that car salesmen work on encourages them to make fast sales based on slightly exaggerated claims.
More than one inexperienced car salesman has overhyped a truck’s towing capabilities to make the sale, only to leave the driver feeling over-promised and under-delivered.
So, no matter how much you might trust the salesperson, always take the time to look up the towing capacity of the exact make and model of truck that you are looking at.
Even if the information you are looking for isn’t stamped in the driver’s side door well, you should still be able to find what you need with a quick search on your smartphone or tablet.
Determining How Much A Truck Can Tow
Let’s say you already have a travel trailer or you found a sweet deal on the travel trailer of your dreams and you pulled the trigger to close the deal before buying the truck.
There are some people who will argue that this is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse.
Though it can also be a major benefit, as you already know key specifications like the gross vehicle weight rating, dry weight, and hitch weight.
The prevailing wisdom is that you should never try to pull anything, including a travel trailer within 80% of the pickup truck’s maximum towing capacity.
An example of doing this math, let’s say that your travel trailer has a gross vehicle weight rating of 8,000 pounds.
This is its maximum weight when loaded to the gills, the water tanks are full and all your gear is loaded with even distribution.
Then you need to target a pickup truck that is rated with at least a 10,000-pound maximum towing capacity.
Special Features To Look For In A Tow Vehicle
Of course, there is more to an effective tow vehicle than just the pickup truck’s maximum towing capacity.
Other special features and options will play into how the truck performs on the road while under load.
You usually see them in “Tow Packages” that are associated with a particular make and model’s trim level.
Though they are not always standard with a tow package from one competitor to the next.
You can look for the following things when comparing apples to apples from one potential tow vehicle to the next.
If one make and model has one of the features and the other does not, you should consider moving it up your list.
Heavy Duty Shocks Or Springs
Some trucks have heavy-duty shocks in the rear, though many have leaf springs. Both can influence the rear suspension when under load.
It is a major factor that influences both payload capacity as well as the maximum hitch weight.
Universal Receiver Hitch
Some pickup trucks with a standard package trim level will just have a ball on the bumper.
Though the best tow packages come with a universal receiver hitch that is installed into the rear frame of the truck.
This lets you quickly switch the ball of the hitch to the trailer you are towing.
This is ideal if you happen to have an equipment trailer or a boat trailer that you might need to tow when you aren’t pulling your travel trailer camper.
Transmission Oil Coolers
Towing anything places increased stress on the engine and other components in the engine bay. This often translates to excess heat.
Especially in the pickup truck’s transmission. A Transmission oil cooler helps keep the transmission fluid from breaking down, which can reduce your risk of transmission damage that can buildup over time.
Trailer Brake Controls
There are many new travel trailers and equipment trailers that come with some sort of electric braking assist system. With these, a special line in the wiring loom coordinates with accessory brakes on the travel trailer.
When you press the brake pedal on the truck, it also activates the brakes in the travel trailer.
This reduces stress on the truck, the tongue of the travel trailer, the hitch, and other key components.
It is especially helpful for somewhat older travel trailers that can sometimes be prone to stress fractures in the nose caused by repeated jarring from stopping and starting.
A Secondary Fuel Tank
Towing a travel trailer, especially a heavy one, will reduce the pickup truck’s fuel efficiency.
Having a secondary fuel tank in the tow vehicle that you can switch over to will reduce the number of refueling stops you need to make.
It’s especially handy if you are the sort of person who likes to boondock off the grid for days at a time, and don’t want to drive to a potentially distant town just to refuel.
Tips For Towing A Trailer Safely
There are a few things to keep in mind when setting up your travel trailer and truck for a long drive.
A few simple things that help keep you safe when driving from Point A to Point B, as well as improving things like fuel efficiency while reducing gradual wear and tear on the pickup truck or the travel trailer.
Balance The Load For Better Hitch Weight
The hitch weight of a travel trailer has an enormous impact on the suspension and safe towing capabilities of the pickup truck that’s towing it.
All too often people are tempted to just dump a heap of camping gear anywhere that it fits in the travel trailer and connect the tongue to the hitch.
Only to find out later that the headlights are pointing toward the clouds and the rear suspension is dragging.
Not only is this hard on the vehicle’s handling, but an improperly balanced load with too much forward-facing weight can damage the tongue of the trailer, damage the tow bar on the pickup truck or even cause damage to the truck’s suspension system.
More than one casual camper packer has suffered a damaged shackle and hanger while pulling their overloaded travel trailer down the road.
Cross Connect The Safety Chains
Each travel trailer has a set of safety chains that are integrated into the tongue assembly.
While you can connect them parallel to each other to the rear of the truck, and be safe, you will have less risk of a problem if you cross-connect them in an X to the rear of the truck.
This reduces the risk of one or both of the S hooks on the chains bouncing loose if you drive over bumpy terrain.
Test The Wiring Harness
Wiring harness components on the truck and travel trailer can be prone to corrosion and other problems.
Especially if they are being stored outdoors. Before going on any trip, you should check to make sure all the brake lights and indicators are working correctly.
If your travel trailer has an electronic braking system, you should also test that too.
Ideally, this should be done a day or two ahead of departing to give you time to fix any problems. Then checked again when you hook up to leave.
What Are Some Of The Best Trucks For Towing A Travel Trailer?
In the United States and Canada domestic trucks from Ford, General Motors and Dodge are the most common tow vehicles chosen to pull travel trailers.
Though in recent years Toyota and Nissan have started making a name for themselves in this niche.
Each of these makes and models also has different trim levels and two packages that can affect their ability to tow a travel trailer.
While the easy assumption is to simply purchase the model with the highest trim level, you might end up paying for a bevy of other features and luxury accessories that have nothing to do with how the truck tows.
The following are some baseline statistics for mid-trim levels on some of the most popular domestic half-ton pickup trucks. It’s not the be-all-end-all choice, but these models are a good place to start shopping.
The Best Half-Ton Pickup Trucks For Towing A Travel Trailer
Half-ton pickup trucks tend to be very popular for tradesmen and sportsmen alike. Most have gasoline engines and might serve as a daily driver.
This makes them a popular place to start shopping when you are looking to pair one with your travel trailer.
Most half-ton pickup trucks can typically tow up to 7,000 pounds. Though when we apply the rule of staying within 80% of the maximum towing capacity, it’s wise to stay to 6,500 to 6,000 pounds or less for a gross vehicle weight rating travel trailer.
The Ford F-150
Ford has undergone some changes in recent years to embrace 21st Century vehicle expectations for fuel efficiency and material build quality.
Though the Ford F-150 still remains one of the best selling trucks in history.
Their new Eco Boost engine has taken away a little bit of the F-150’s base towing capacity, though it still has an impressive maximum towing capacity.
The Chevrolet Silverado & GMC Sierra 1500
While they have different badges, exterior styling cues, and different interior comfort features, these two half-ton trucks from General Motors are essentially the same when it comes to towing capabilities.
While they do have a little bit lower of a base towing capacity, you also do tend to get a little bit better MPG rating than some of the apples to apples competitors in the domestic truck market.
The RAM 1500
Dodge has also undergone some 21st Century reinvention with their lineup of half-ton pickup trucks.
This translates into superior low-end torque, which could be preferable if you need a tow vehicle that can pull a travel trailer up difficult hills, or you have a boat and you need to pull it out of steep, rustic boat launches.
The Nissan Titan
This is Nissan’s equivalent of a half-ton truck. It has a reputation for handling well and has good acceleration.
Though some argue that it’s not meant for rugged treatment like some domestic models.
The Toyota Tundra
Now made in the USA, the Toyota Tundra is a somewhat newcomer to the world of half-ton pickup trucks.
It has Toyota’s reputation for reliability and a lot of the rugged feel that you get from a domestic pickup truck from Ford, General Motors, or Dodge.
The Best Three-Quarter Ton Pickup Trucks For Towing A Travel Trailer
Three quarter ton pickup trucks are the next step up from half-tons. They tend to be more robust in suspension, transmission, and other important towing features.
A lot of them have heavy-duty diesel engines that further produce superior torque. Though this does mean that have a much higher price tag.
The average person who is driving to their 9 to 5 office job rarely uses a three-quarter-ton pickup truck.
So, they are more common for tradesmen and construction workers who need their trucks to work for a living.
Three-quarter ton trucks can tow much more than half-tons. In general, you can safely tow a travel trailer with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 to 12,000-pounds.
Though there are certainly some models and trim levels that can tow even more that that safely.
The Ford Super Duty F-250
The Ford Super Duty F-250 departs from the Eco Boost engineering with a powerful diesel engine.
This dramatically increases the maximum towing capacity and maximum payload. Though, as you can imagine, it also increases the price.
There is more than enough power here to pull most travel trailers as well as fifth-wheel trailers.
The Chevrolet Silverado 2500 & The GMC Sierra 2500
Here again, we have two different models from the same truck manufacturer.
Underneath the hood, you find the same powerful diesel engine that makes the Chevy Silverado 2500 and the GMC Sierra 2500 so popular for towing heavy travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers
The Ram 2500
There are two different engines for the Ram 2500. You can choose a gasoline 6.4 Liter V8 Or a 6.7 Liter 6-cylinder diesel.
It’s also worth noting that Nissan used to offer an XD version of the Titan, which had commanding towing statistics. Though they stopped production in 2019, and have slowly been phasing it out of the tow vehicle market.
One Ton Pickup Trucks For Towing
For people who don’t want to take chances a one-ton pickup truck certainly fits the bill.
These monsters of the road have massive diesel engines that can pull staggering amounts of weight.
Pretty much all of them come with optional 4-wheel drive which helps conquer tough terrain and steep inclines while under load.
Though all this power does come with a pretty steep price tag. 1 ton heavy trucks can tow over 12,000 to 15,000-pounds, which puts pretty much all heavy travel trailers and most fifth-wheel trailers in their commanding range.
The Ford F350
The Ford F350 is a powerful one-ton pickup truck that is often used by construction workers who need to tow heavy-duty equipment trailers or fifth-wheel trailers.
It’s also commonly found in the agricultural sector pulling livestock trailers and other heavy weight farm equipment from Point A to Point B.
Of course, this puts it in range to tow even the heaviest of RV travel trailers.6.7 Liter 6-cylinder diesel.
The Chevrolet Silverado & GMC Sierra 3500
Here again, we have two nearly identical trucks from General Motors. Only the external styling, badges, and comfort features differ.
Otherwise they are both very powerful towing machines with diesel engines.
The Chevrolet Silverado is more popular and you are more likely to get a better resell value later on if you are buying new.
The Ram 3500
Ram is another highly competitive domestic truck manufacturer who continually manages to take a bite out of Ford and General Motors pieces of the market share.
The Ram 3500 has a powerful diesel engine just like Ford and General Motors offerings in this niche.
Though they tend to have a higher payload capacity in their beefed up rear suspension as well as impressive low end torque.
This makes the Ram 3500 popular for towing fifth-wheel trailers, as well as travel trailers that need to tackle steep terrain.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does The Average Travel Trailer Weigh?
The average travel trailer has a dry weight of around 5,200-pounds. Which is in range for pretty much all half-ton pickup trucks.
There are even a few full-size SUVs that can tow an average travel trailer. Especially some of the lighter models, which might only have a dry weight of 2,000-pounds.
Though there are certainly some behemoths that are loaded with extra features, massive water storage tanks, and stretch beyond 30-feet in length.
These travel trailers when fully loaded can tip the scales with a gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 to 12,000-pounds.
How Does A Travel Trailer’s Dry Weight Affect The Tongue Weight?
As a rule of thumb, you can estimate a travel trailer’s tongue weight to be roughly 10% of the gross weight.
Though the engineering specifics and how the trailer is loaded can alter this percentage in either direction.
How Do I Estimate The Payload Capacity Of My Travel Trailer?
Most travel trailers have a payload capacity that’s listed right alongside the dry weight and gross vehicle weight rating.
This is the manufacturer’s estimated capacity of gear that the trailer’s suspension, tongue, and other components can safely handle.
Exceeding the payload weight or loading the weight unevenly in the travel trailer can be a safety issue, it can damage the tongue, the suspension and even cause a dangerous trailer sway problem when traveling at highway speed.
It’s important to note that the payload capacity also factors in liquid weights. This includes things like fresh water, gray water, and black water tanks, or even fuel tanks on a toy hauler travel trailer.
For the sake of easy math, you should assume that every one gallon of water weighs in as 9-pounds.
This is a little over the actual weight of a gallon of water, but it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Gasoline Or Diesel Engine: Which Is Better For Towing Camper Trailer?
Diesel engines used to be rarer in pickup trucks than gasoline. They usually were only limited to three-quarter-ton trucks or larger.
Though today more and more trucks and cars of all sizes are embracing diesel for its fuel efficiency and low-end torque.
This also makes diesel engines better at towing heavy travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers.
The trade-off here is that diesel engine trucks tend to cost more. In some parts of the United States diesel isn’t carried as much in typical gas stations.
So, you might need to preplan your fuel stops at truck stops that always offer diesel for commercial vehicles.
With a gasoline engine, you are going to have a lower initial purchase price and you can trust that pretty much every fuel station you stop at will carry gasoline.
Do I Need A Four Wheel Drive Truck To Tow A Travel Trailer?
On paper, you don’t need a four-wheel-drive truck to drive a travel trailer on the highway from Point A to Point B.
In fact, driving at highway speeds with a truck with a locking rear differential-style of four-wheel drive on dry pavement can be damaging to the wheel hubs.
Where four-wheel-drive becomes handy is when you are towing your travel trailer in rough or poor road conditions.
Muddy roads, steep inclines, and snow can all bog down a two-wheel-drive truck pulling a heavy travel trailer.
If possible, a four-wheel-drive truck is always a good idea, for times when you need your tow vehicle to get you out of a pinch.
Just be prepared to pay an extra 10% or more for a vehicle that has four-wheel drive available.
Are Camera Systems Important For A Truck Towing A Travel Trailer?
These days more and more pickup trucks are coming with blind-spot and other innovative camera systems.
They don’t really help you when towing a travel trailer down the road from Point A to Point B.
Though a backup camera system can certainly help with backing your travel trailer into a tight campsite or lining up the hitch with the tongue of the travel trailer.
Especially if you are working alone or without a competent spotter to help guide you.
There are a lot of different makes and models of pickup truck to choose from. Pairing your travel trailer with the best truck does require putting in a little research as well as doing the math.
This includes the statistics on the pickup truck as well as the travel trailer you intend to tow it with.
If you are looking for a travel trailer with a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,500 to 6,000-pounds, then most of the half-ton pickup trucks like the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, RAM 1500, and the Nissan Titan might be the best option.
These trucks are common on the road with people of all interests and vocation.
Though if you own or are thinking about buying a travel trailer that weighs more than 6,000-pounds for the gross vehicle weight rating, then a three-quarter-ton is probably the best truck to tow a heavy travel trailer.